Whether you consider yourself thrifty, financially cautious or a mean penny pincher, it's a good idea to mooch around Wilko at this time of year. They're clearing the gardening aisles 'cause apparently gardening season's over. Not in my book, but according to retailers it is. They're gearing up for Return to School / Halloween / Christmas and shelf space is needed for things other than gardening equipment. What that means is prices are slashed for basics that're come in useful next year. Large plastic tubs, plant saucers, gardening gloves, plant labels and so on. Plus - seeds!
This lot were half price, meaning I spent a fiver and picked up 9 packets, all of which have a 'sow by' date of 2020 or 21. In the store I visited today there was a massive range available, and you could certainly stock up on all your veggie seeds for next spring. Or, if you're like me, you can indulge your floral fantasies and snaffle packets of pretty Scabious and Cosmos. The Wilko own brand are cheap enough even when full price, so my rocket and tomato seeds were a total bargain at 50p and 35p respectively.
Why not pop in and see what you can find?
In the left at the front of this photo you can see a Yarrow plant. Only it ain't there no more! I've uprooted it. It was in the wrong place, I'd concluded, so I determined - with a breezy air of self confidence - to dig it up and pop it in another spot in the garden. Hah!
Hah blooming hah!
So much for that bright idea. Those Yarrow roots weren't coming out without a struggle. It was worse than trying to cram a stroppy cat into a cat basket (when that moggie just knows the cat basket never makes an appearance unless it's time to visit the dreaded vet). In the end it came out in bits and was lobbed into the compost bin. I hadn't realised how thuggish Yarrow is, a quality it shares with mint whose roots get everywhere.
So I reckon in future i'll treat Yarrow like mint. Either I'll grow it in a container, or in a separate section of the garden where it's away from other plants. Or I'll do the old trick you're recommended to do with mint, namely cut the base off a flowerpot and bury that in the ground, then put the plant inside it. That way, you contain the roots within a limited area, making it much less invasive.
Apart from wrestling with Yarrow I've been digging up some of the flower border in the front garden. Confession time. I'd been in way too much of a hurry to get something green planted out there, so I'd skimped on preparing the ground. I'd taken up the bricks, scraped away some of the sand underneath and dug out a thin layer of limestone that'd been put down to level the ground. But I didn't take out enough of the limestone. Especially at the front edge of the top level it's really quite deep as the garden must've originally been a steepish slope before it was divided and flattened into two distinct levels.
I'm going back now and being more thorough. Rubble sack after rubble sack is being filled, and my gardening is less about drifting around in a pretty frock cutting flowers to plonk in a vase, & more about getting sweaty and heaving bags of sand and stone around. I'm getting down to the original earth, making the flower beds deeper. Meaning they'll need several bags of potting compost tipped into them before they're replanted.
I keep telling myself it'll look good in a couple of years time! I thought I was a patient person, but I think gardening's going to teach me patience on a whole new level.
To keep me cheery I'm lusting over the gorgeous range of seeds in Sarah Raven's catalogue. Can I justify buying more seeds when I've already got more than enough? Not really, but then I haven't bought any Astrantia seeds. Or Leonotis leonurus. Ooooh, what about those opium poppies in deep, jewel-like plum and crimson ... now, where's that credit card gone?
It's the season when family and friends visit and offer greetings, a warm smile and ... some veg. All around the country gardeners are dealing with gluts. Popping round to neighbours with a handful of courgettes, passing on yellow squash like cheerful round footballs (I've still got three donated ones that're lined up in the shed).
I'm dealing with a glut of homegrown tomatoes. Some tiny as Ferrero Rocher, some fatter and glossy orangey-red. If you're never grown your own toms I'd urge you to do so. I never thought I liked fresh tomatoes. Tinned, yeah. As a topping on pizza, mmmm. But raw? No. That's before I grew my own and discovered they're a world away from those sad ones sold in supermarkets.
First of all, homegrown ones smell. Ones in shops are bland, scent free, like a poor imitation of the real thing. Also, we all know how shop bought ones deflate when you cut into them, like water filled balloons. Homegrown ones keep their shape. They're firmer and much more tasty. That's the main thing, they taste good.
I picked lots and made them into a pasta sauce. It's so simple. Tomatoes, onions, lots of herbs, all cooked slowly and on a low heat. You can make a big pan full and decant into lidded, plastic tubs and pop them in the freezer. With the yellow squashes I roast them. Spray a large roasting tin with Frylight, cut squash into rough chunks then sprinkle a spice mix over the top. Roast until the squash is beautifully soft. Sometimes I throw a can of sweetcorn over the squash when it's nearly done and add some crumbled Feta cheese on top.
Are you dealing with a vegetable glut? What're your best tips for using up those mounds of courgettes or runner beans, tomatoes or squashes?
My shed isn't exactly the kind of thing you see featured in 'Country Living' or similar lifestyle mags. It's not pretty-pretty, and there's not a scrap of Cath Kidston bunting to be seen. It is however a very practical space for storing my bike, garden tools, bags of potting compost and various bits and pieces that'll 'come in useful some day'. The kind of stuff - empty yoghurt pots, bits of string - you don't want lying around the house making it look like a hangout for the Wombles. There're shelves made from bits of an old chest of drawers, and a row of empty plastic cola bottles that might end up as mini cloches for vulnerable seedlings.
I try to keep the floor space free by hanging things up on hooks, or just nails banged into a length of wood. That red plastic storage basket's good for keeping small plant pots in.
There's a bunch of dill drying in the shed at the moment, so it smells lovely.
If you're like me and you've ended up with loads of these sturdy supermarket bags they can be handy for gardening too. Cheaper than those plastic trugs, and just as useful for throwing weeds into so you can transport them to the compost heap. Or for chucking your trowel, kneeling mat, gardening gloves, string, secateurs etc into when you're heading outside, so everything's to hand and you're not traipsing back inside to fetch things constantly. At a push you can also kneel on them if the ground's damp, but I'd definitely recommend getting a proper padded kneeler. Much kinder on the old bones!
Apart from cutting back the monstrously tall dill I've been chopping up chives.
It's useful to have spare ice cube trays for freezing things other than water. In this case I'm cutting chives into small pieces and freezing. Great for cooking when you can't venture outside because it's pouring with rain or the existing chives are looking straggly and not worth the picking.
Simply top the tray up with water, then freeze into cubes and tip out into a plastic bag. That frees up the ice cube tray so you can use it for something else. Then the chive cubes are ready for whenever you need to lob a few into a stew or soup. Easy peasy, huh?
How splendid are these orange Crocosmia? The colour absolutely sings out, and looks especially good in late afternoon/early evening light. Sadly these weren't from my garden, but I definitely want to plant lots of these beauties next year, enough that I can regularly have a vase full in the house.
What I am going to have waaaay too many of next year - if I don't take action - are foxgloves. As I didn't cut the spires off the ones that'd finished flowering in the front garden they've been self seeding like crazy maniacs. It's going to be choc a bloc with foxgloves if I don't get out there and weed some of the little seedlings out. That'll be a job for tomorrow, if the rain holds off.
(In the photo above - Swan River daisies)
I had a productive morning - a two hour walk, plus an hour and a half of yoga, I bought some groceries and joined the library. Then came home and have been languishing like a consumptive Victorian heroine in dire need of smelling salts ever since. I'm in the conservatory which is creaking like old bones as it's a ridiculously windy day. My back garden's surrounded by a fairly low fence which lets the wind gust over. (Need to get higher fencing and some trellis.) The top heavy sunflowers are bending and swaying and - despite being staked - one of them's broken off.
Anyway, I'm inside, eating far too many digestives - so dunkable in a nice cuppa tea - and reading 'Designing with Plants' by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. I've only recently become familiar with the term 'prairie planting' and quite by chance stumbled across the 'leading plantsman in Europe' Piet Oudolf who is massively influential with that style of gardening.
I'd gone into the local village library and mooched around the shelves, and was amazed to find this book available. I really want to learn how to put together successful borders, and love this idea of prairie planting - mixing perennials with grasses, getting the mix of colours and textures, allowing the plants to go through their life cycle and finding pleasure in the seed heads and decay as much as the stunning summer flowers.
I'm trying to teach myself garden design.
I'd love to do a course in it, but they look too technical and dry. They look the kind of courses that require you to fiddle with spreadsheets and stare at a computer screen for much of the day.
(Sorry, this and the rest of the photos used are stock images, so don't know the specific plant varieties.)
So I'm going to teach myself the parts of garden design that appeal to me, and the Piet Oudolf book begins with taking you through 'FORM'. The shape of plants. These are divided into main groups:
SPIRES - these are what they sound like, tall spikes of plants. Think of foxgloves reaching skyward, stems packed with flowers. Other spires are: Verbena Hastata, Salvia 'Dear Anja' or Baptisia Iactea. The more tightly packed the flowers on the stems are, the purer and cleaner the shape. Spires are best planted in clumps rather than a single plant on its own.
BUTTONS & GLOBES - think of Echinops, those globe like thistles or Allium seedheads once the flowers have finished. Buttons and globes are described by the authors as defined points. They're clusters of tightly packed flowers. Other examples are Knautia macedonica or Astrantia major 'Roma'.
PLUMES - think of plumes as soft connections between your spires. in a border They're made up of a myriad of tiny little flowers arranged in loose, sometimes transparent ways. Plumes look good en masse. If you've planted lots of bold shapes in your border you can use plumes to soften the more clearly defined planting. Examples of plumes are Rodgersia, Persicaria polymorpha or Filipendula rubra 'Venusta'.
UMBELS - lots of common wildflowers and weeds have these shapes. Think of upturned bowls (or the frame of an upturned umbrella). These gently rounded shapes contrast with those reach-for-the-sky, energetic spires. Examples of umbels are fennel, Angelica gigas, Sedum 'Stardust' or Achillea 'Terracotta'.
DAISIES - I think we're all pretty familiar with daisies, whether we're talking about Rudbeckia, Asters, Heleniums or Echinacea purpurea. We associate daisies with sunshine and happiness, and long summer days when hopes are high.
SCREENS & CURTAINS - These are plants that aren't solid and chunky, but thin enough to be seen through. You get networks of stems, leaves and flowers. They're insubstantial plants, such as Stipa gigantea or the young fennel plant when its got narrow leaves and sparse umbels. Think of Verbena bonariensis when it's at the front of a border. You can look past it and through it to what's behind.
The book then moves on to COLOURS, grouping them as:
HOT - your reds and oranges. Colours that shout 'hey! look at me!'. The authors caution you to use these colours sparingly. Also - interesting to realise - red's the first colour to disappear at dusk, meaning a red border takes on a sombre quality in the evening light. Hot colours are found with red tulips and poppies, or red peonies.
COOL - blue is a cool colour and one that seems to recede, so if you plant it in a border you're adding depth. Most blue flowers contain some red, meaning you can pair them up nicely with purples and violets (which contain even more red). If you're using a blue flowering plant that has a very grey or metallic quality to it, you need to place it carefully. Allow it's unusual colouring to be appreciated.
Examples are Campanula latifolia 'Gloaming' or Clematis integrifolia.
The next grouping of colours are -
SWEET - think pink. Whether that's baby pink or shocking. It's a superb linking colour that can be used to make connections between other stronger shades, but take care with some pinks as overusing them can be cloying. Too sickly sweet and bland. Examples of pink flowers abound, and include pink poppies, Sanguisorba stipulata and Salvia pratensis 'Lapis Lazuli'.
Next up are -
SOMBRE - these are the unusual colours, the ones with a sense of mystery to them. The sort of plants that make people bend down to take a look and ask 'what's this one called?'. Every garden needs an element of surprise, and touches of sombre colours can provide that. Examples are: Astrantia major 'Claret' and Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' (which is a red thistle).
Finally, we come to -
EARTHY - these are the browns found in grasses, and in plants that're going to seed and dying back. There's beauty to be found in plants that're past their best, as well as habitat for small insects. Examples of earthy colours are found, as already noted, in grasses but also in Echinacea purpurea once it's finished flowering and has gone to seed. Also Veratrum nigrum.
Well, that's what I've learnt so far. I hope you've found that useful too as I'm certainly looking at plants with new eyes now. That one's a classic globe shape. That's an umbel. That's a sweet colour, that's earthy.
Anyone else intrigued by the work of Piet Oudolf? Maybe you've been familiar with his work for years?
I thought I knew what verbena looked like. Tall and slender, with tiny clusters of purple flowers. Only it turns out there're different varieties of verbena. There's the tall and slender Verbena bonariensis, so beloved of garden designers at RHS Chelsea. Then there's Verbena rigida Venosa, which has the same purple flowers but in a compact version, about 30cm tall.
A Sunday afternoon stroll to the local horiticultural nursery and a modest £2.50 got me two more. On the left in the photo is Verbena Lanai Twister Pink. Described on its plant label as 'A compact plant with a trailing habit producing clusters of bright flowers. Ideal for window boxes, patio containers and borders.' Height reached should be between 10 and 20cm. Trails to 20cm. The colours are vivid, and I did wonder if they were a bit too gaudy, but actually in the softer evening light they look really pretty. On the right is Verbena Venturi Violet. This one's label tells us 'Compact plant with branching stems. Ideal for pots and containers. Remove dead blooms to encourage further growth.' Height s/b 35 to 50cm. Trails to 20cm. I love that deep violet colour, and it sits well in the blue glazed container.
I know I shouldn't have spent any more money on plants - I'm supposed to be in a thrifty frame of mind - but I'm not sorry I bought them. In fact I quite fancy trying to see how many varieties of verbena I can squish into my garden.
If verbena doesn't float your boat, what type of flower is guaranteed to get you reaching into your purse and parting with your pennies?
Moved from a garden-less city flat in the South West to a Yorkshire village in 2016. I now have a garden ... of sorts.